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7 industry insights from semiconductor executives

Posted: 20 Jan 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:16nm  3D chip stacks  Moore's Law 

Samsung and GlobalFoundries are seen to get ahead of the race to ship 14/16nm chips this year, while some people express excitement over TSMC's second-generation 16nm process. These are some of the insights taken from the Industry Strategy Symposium, an annual gathering of semiconductor executives, held in California.

The bad news is 3D chip stacks will not be ready for smartphones anytime soon. On another sour note, it probably will take until 2016 before vertical NAND memories are shipping from multiple suppliers in significant volumes. And don't even talk about EUV—few of the attendees here did.

Mark Bohr, Intel's point man on the 7nm node, was characteristically upbeat about Moore's Law. Although his team has been beating the rest of the industry to new nodes lately, including the 14nm FinFET generation, he does not expect to be able to pass that success on to his foundry customers such as Altera.


"I suspect the foundries may beat us to true foundry products on 14/16nm FinFET," he said in a panel discussion.

Although Samsung and its licensee GlobalFoundries are expected to win that race, current data says their process is not as low in leakage current as the TSMC process. However, the duo is expected to undercut TSMC's price.

TSMC has its own plans to cut costs 15 to 20 per cent with a second-generation 16nm FinFET process, described at the IEDM conference in December. The reductions come from finding ways to reduce interconnects and thus eliminate some masks.

Qualcomm is said to have exclusive rights to the new 16nm TSMC process for perhaps six months or so. The mobile giant helped TSMC form its strategy for separate polysilicon and high-K metal gate versions of 28nm that were very successful, but helped its archrival Mediatek get access to advanced processes without the pain of helping develop them.

This time around, the Taiwan chipmaker will have to wait until the Snapdragon has had a drink at the fountain. At the end of the day, the exclusive might not be that huge a deal for Qualcomm. Most of the growth in smartphones is in the middle market, and 28nm processes will serve that just fine for the next year or two.

Slow train to 3D ICs

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Imec described several approaches to 3D chip stacks.

While everyone races to FinFETs, 3D ICs are coming on at a turtle's pace. "Even I am surprised to see how long it is taking to make these products mainstream—its cost," said Bohr of Intel, which described a poor man's approach to chip stacks in September.

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